Can We Become Like Jesus?

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.59.22 AMArriving home after a long day, she took one look around the place and exclaimed, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?!?”

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

[moment of silence]

Writes the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome,

[God] decided in advance that they (that means us) would be conformed to the image of his Son. Romans 8:29b CEB

Paul alludes here to the Genesis of humanity. He makes an implied comparison between being created in the Imago Dei, that is the divine image…

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. Genesis 1:27 CEB

Paul makes a comparison between our initial creation in God’s image and our calling to be re-created in the Image of Christ.

Given our human unwillingness (inability?) to live within and toward God’s dream for us, God finds another way. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, God stands upon a new path beckoning us to dream beyond ourselves.

In the person of Jesus, the divine lures and encourages us to become more than we ever thought we could be.

[time of silence]

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

Paul, the ultimate public theologian, is talking about Christology in this section of his letter to the Roman church. Christology has to do with where you place Jesus on the continuum from human to divine.

Historical church doctrine says that Jesus is “fully human AND fully divine.” All the same, even those who claim to accept this doctrine tend to favor one or the other.

That is, we tend to think of Jesus more in divine terms or more in human terms.

I tend to favor a low Christology. That means that I find the humanity of Jesus most helpful in my personal understanding of God’s call in my life. He’s one of us, works for me.

Some of you, may favor a high Christology. That means you relate to the divinity of Christ more than the humanity of Christ. If this is you, thinking of Jesus in this way helps you with your day to day faith.

Generally speaking, those of us who are UCC have a lower Christology than those in the Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches. It’s not always true but mostly true.

And, of course, none of us are always consistent in our thinking. It’s not like you woke up one morning and decided, “This is what I’m going to believe.”

It is our upbringing, our experiences, and the Holy Spirit who lead us to our particular way of understanding who Jesus was and is for us.

As a rule, neither high or low christology is right to the exclusion of the other. They both can be legitimate ways of understanding Jesus.

[time of silence]

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul tells the Jews and Gentiles of that mid-first century church that we are called to “conform” to Jesus. Paul tells them that God,

decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way [God’s] Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29b CEB

To conform to the image of Jesus is to become like Jesus not to be Jesus. In other words, not only can we become like Jesus, we are expected to work at becoming like Jesus.

[time of silence]

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

In talking with someone, I once raised the question that serves as sermon title today.

“Never!” she said, “I can never be like Jesus. He was perfect; I can never be perfect!”

Though neither high or low christology is inherently bad, in this case, the woman’s exceedingly high christology made it difficult for her to heed God’s claim on her life.

She perceived Jesus as far removed from humanity. In her way of thinking, Jesus is God.

It was arrogant and presumptuous, in her mind,  for me to even ask if she could become like Jesus. But it is not just me asking the question.

It is Paul telling the Roman church — and us — that we are to strive in our every action to become like Jesus.

This is a caution for us to be aware of our understanding of Jesus so that it does not prevent us from learning and growing in our faith. An overly high christology can prevent us from being Christ’s body on earth.

In the words of Teresa of Avila,

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. (excerpt from Christ Has No Body by Teresa of Avila)

[time of silence]

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

If we embrace too high a christology then to become like Jesus is utterly unattainable. Why should we bother to even attempt to be Christ’s hands with which he blesses the world? Why should we even try to emulate Jesus if it’s impossible?

With too high a christology  — too much emphasis on Christ’s divinity — we just settle for human kindness, for showing up at church once a quarter, and doing the minimum. Too high a christology can lead to abdicating our responsibility as followers of our brother Jesus.

Too high a christology can lead to abdicating our responsibility as followers of our brother Jesus.

[time of silence]

He fed 5000. He called the loathsome out of the tree and ate with them. He challenged injustice in the temple. Why can’t we be more like our brother?!?

True enough, we’re not perfect but if we start with our imperfections instead of our goal — the goal God sets before us — then we’ll never reach our potential in being like Jesus. We will deny the image of God in which we are created.

And when we deny the image of God in ourselves, we’re rejecting God’s dream  not only for ourselves but for one another.

Hear the words of Paul again:

[God] decided that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way [God’s] Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29b CEB

We are siblings with Jesus, according to Paul. Jesus is our older brother to whom we should all look up. Jesus is the first among many brothers and sisters — us.

Jesus is the brother who, despite his humanity, breathes in the divine one and breathes out extravagant love. Our job is to strive to become like him.

Amen.

[time of silence]

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

Posted in Genesis, Genesis 1, Genesis 1-2, Genesis 1:26-27, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Romans 8, Romans 8:18-39, Romans 8:29b, Sermon

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Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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